Though they both have links to public office – one a legislator, the other a former minister – neither Kem Sokha nor Sam Rainsy are being hailed on the Council of Ministers website for public service.
Instead, in a lengthy audio file posted yesterday by the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit, the two heads of the country’s main opposition party are mocked mercilessly.
“Kem Sokha is a champion of boast,” a radio-smooth narrator intones at the start, before switching to a clip of Sokha taunting the Sam Rainsy Party’s poor showing in the polls and accusing them of being a “puppet party”.
“In this case,” the narrator continues, “Kem Sokha accused Sam Rainsy of being a puppet and Sam Rainsy said Kem Sokha is the puppet’s puppet. It’s double puppetry.”
Over the course of 25 minutes, the Ayai Between Two Strong Leaders, as the file is sarcastically titled, plays out with the men’s speeches, a high-ranking opposition official and Prime Minister Hun Sen presenting the pair in an increasingly unflattering light.
The presentation drums up the infamous 2011 leak of a conversation between the premier and Sokha, which likely contributed to a failed opposition merger that year. Though both parties managed to form the coalition Cambodian National Rescue Party in July 2012, political analysts said at the time they would have had a far stronger showing that year had they come together prior to the commune elections.
“Remember His Excellency Sam Rainsy that your speaking with me can be leaked as well,” the premier warns in the final audio clip. “Recordings are done everywhere, in every country. Even if you whisper like today, I speak.”
The clip fades and the narrator cuts in.
“Please [continue to] follow; what trick do both leaders have to deceive their activists?”
Sly, witty and of high production value, the clip is just the latest bit of electioneering to come from the Press and Quick Reaction Unit.
Funded by the national budget and ostensibly a government mouthpiece, the unit has operated as a de facto propaganda arm of the CPP since 2009.
Its staff has typically taken care to distinguish government information, publishing most politically tinged takedowns as commentary with a disclaimer that it is “solely the opinion of the author and do[es] not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Government of Cambodia”.
But as the July election draws near, such niceties have become moot.
Members of the unit have emailed around caricatures and derisive photos with mock dialogue painted over them.
In one cartoon – disseminated in late March – an artfully rendered Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha joke with one another about their prospects come July.
“I think we’ll lose the election, so we don’t need election observers,” Rainsy tells Sokha.
“Correct, brother. We can use that as an excuse to demonstrate!” a grinning Sokha shoots back.
“The leaders of the unit are members of the CPP,” is how one Council of Ministers official speaking on the condition of anonymity explained the political slant, adding that, without a doubt, a secondary aim of the unit was to support the ruling party’s position. “No one would dare to [oppose the content], because they will get in trouble.”